Why Not Nashville?

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Most that follow this site know how much I enjoy living in Nashville. I love the Tennessee Titans and my nearby Tennessee Vols. Although I’m not much of a hockey fan, I enjoy taking in an occasional Nashville Predators game. In my later years, I’ve developed an ear for country music. Although I was somewhat dragged to it, I attended a Taylor Swift concert in September and came away very impressed. Overall, life is very good here.

Although Nashville isn’t known as a hotbed for open-wheel racing, there is a handful of hard-core fans that live here. The North American headquarters of Firestone is based in the Music City. Nashville is also home to three-time defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and Indy Lights champion and IndyCar rookie Josef Newgarden. Barber Motorsports Park is three hours away and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is only a four-hour drive.

Although I’m proud to call Nashville home, I don’t think I’ve ever been known as a “homer”. Case in point, is my opinion of Nashville Superspeedway. Unlike my partner-in-crime on One Take Only; John McLallen – I’ve always considered the now-dormant track to be a disappointment, to say the least. John refuses to admit any of Nashville Superspeedway’s shortcomings, of which there are many.

First of all, the name of the track is a misnomer. The venue sits squarely in the middle of Wilson County, not Davidson County where Nashville sits. With no traffic, it takes a full hour to get to the track in Gladeville, TN from Nashville. Once you get there, you’ll notice that there is nothing in sight. I don’t mean, there are a few businesses or buildings – there’s NOTHING. Not a gas station, not a convenience store, not any form of a dining establishment, a watering hole or hotel. There are no homes. There is nothing but farmland, a water tower and a racetrack carved out of the limestone rock surrounding it. The nearest hotel is forty-five minutes away in Murfreesboro. It just seemed like a foolish location for the track that opened in 2001. It disproves the theory of “If you build it, they will come”.

The location was not the only problem. In their infinite wisdom, Dover Motorsports decided to create a narrow 1.33-mile oval that is paved in concrete. Rough concrete. Rough and abrasive concrete. The narrow track offered little opportunity for passing. On the plus side, the stands were always full. Nashville supported this race, but even that was a little misleading because the stands only held 25,000. All of this led to the decision for the track to cease operations at the end of their season this past summer – a season which consisted of only two Nationwide races paired with two NASCAR Truck races.

This was after IndyCar stopped racing at Nashville Superspeedway after the 2008 event. Although the series caught heat locally, I always blamed Cliff Hawks – the clueless oaf who was the General Manager of the track. With rumors swirling that IndyCar may leave the Nashville market, Hawks was interviewed on local TV and was asked about the possibility that 2008 may be the last race for the series. He actually said he had no idea what the reporter was talking about. The look on his face told me that this was the first time he had actually heard this. He was not that clever of a liar. I think he was that clueless. He explained that he was confident that IndyCar would renew their contract just as they always had and nothing was different from previous negotiations. Two week later, it was announced that IndyCar would not be returning and Hawks appeared stunned.

Much has changed since those days. Nashville Superspeedway has been silenced, with no activity scheduled for 2012. Meanwhile, IndyCar has become INDYCAR and is starving for ovals. In fact, INDYCAR is on a quest to add at least two more venues of any type for the 2012 season. Why? Because the sponsorship agreement with series sponsor IZOD requires at least sixteen race weekends. Anything less could be seen as a breach of contract, allowing IZOD to walk away. With the announcement that Las Vegas Motor Speedway is now officially off of the 2012 schedule, the series currently has only fourteen events confirmed for next season. Texas has yet to be confirmed and Baltimore is looking iffy, at best.

In the meantime, there are fans screaming for more ovals. Currently, only three are confirmed – Iowa, Fontana and Indianapolis. We are still hoping for Texas, but that would still be only four. Gateway in St. Louis, another former Dover track, is reopening. Memphis Motorsports Park has been mentioned, but not as a real possibility. Pikes Peak and Walt Disney World are talked about as possibilities, but they have both been dormant for years with dismantled stands. Phoenix and Chicagoland are not available for next year for a variety of reasons. As for road course ideas, many want to finish the season on the road course at Indianapolis. Although it might help satisfy the sixteen race requirement, I would avoid that if at all possible. The purist in me just doesn’t want to see the series race another race there.

And then there is Nashville. Last night, Curt Cavin correctly pointed out that the staff of Nashville Superspeedway has been dissolved. He later quoted Randy Bernard as saying that Nashville can’t happen. My question is why? If a property has been shut down, could the series not lease the property from the owner for a steep discount and use their own people to pull off a race? Could Dover not shift some of their people over to help with a once a year event? Based on what I saw from Cliff Hawks, having him out of the way could be the best thing that ever happened to the white-elephant track.

I know very little in the way of what kind of manpower it takes to pull off an event like this, but the people at IMS certainly do They handle many events much bigger than what we’re talking about, throughout May as well as July and September. Could they not help Randy Bernard and his staff try and run a successful race here? If he’s looking for volunteers to try and pull off a race here, I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do for free – whether that’s selling tickets or parking cars.

Maybe I’m being a little naïve, but why not Nashville? It seems that these are desperate times as far as the 2012 schedule goes and desperation requires extraordinarily creative thinking. I don’t think anyone wants to see IZOD walk away. Randy Bernard has to get very creative and do whatever is necessary to guarantee that next year’s schedule contains the required sixteen-race schedule. Not reaching that goal could inflict irreversible damage on the IZOD IndyCar Series in more ways than I care to imagine. If that means throwing together a skeleton crew of volunteers in Nashville, then count me in. If not, then I hope there’s a plan in place to reach sixteen races for next year.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Why Not Nashville?”

  1. George, I like your point as well as the shout-out. Frankly, it would appear to be easier to set up the NSS facilities than to set up a street race. Dover, too, could benefit by giving the track a bit of polish and showing it off to potential buyers. Hey, I will be glad to help with this effort anyway I can and for a bit of SWAG I can come very cheap! :)

  2. scott simmons Says:

    This is a great idea. The track won’t be in disrepair being just a year after closing, it would be a sell out so it would be great for promotion and Bridgestone would have to be happy to have INDYCAR back in their town. Plus it’s a slow track so the new slow cars would be right at home!

    In all seriousness, you hit the nail on the head that the Nashville Superspeedway was very badly managed. I remember hearing a couple years after opening that the management was pleasantly surprised how much interest there was in the in-field road course. But did they do anything to promote or nurture it? No. There wasn’t even a calendar on the NSS website where someone could see upcoming car club events and then click over to the car club for information. It would often be only a few days before or after an event that I would hear about a track day.

    Truthfully the road course kinda sucked with a transition from and to the oval that was like driving over a curb but that road course was better than no road course at all. But yet management did little to nothing to promote it. SCCA would run on it sometimes so I guess that was good.

    Once I bought a pass to the Formula Racing Experience on a sunday at NSS only to have it postponed at the last minute because FRE said the Speedway failed to tell them NSS had booked a motorcycle event there on the same day. I had to take a day off work 3 months later, though it was a lot of fun (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD31KeXy4zA)

    All that to say it can’t be THAT hard to open a newly dormant oval for a weekend for a race that would most likely be successful at least from an attendance and schedule-fulfillment point of view. But then again if the idiots who ran the Superspeedway for the years that it was open would be involved then I can see why it wouldn’t work.

    If my impressions of the Superspeedway are wrong I welcome someone from the NSS to counter but as both an INDYCAR fan and automotive enthusiast I watched, attended and participated in Nashville Superspeedway events for a number of years and it always seemed like it was a poorly run, red-headed stepchild of it’s parent company (no offense to red-headed stepchildren).

  3. Why not Nashville? Because it’s a Street Oval, to use Pressdog’s term. There’s about as much passing there as on a street course. Also see this article. http://livefastracing.blogspot.com/2007/07/feature-story-firestone-200.html

  4. While I understand that there are those who want to see any oval track on the INDYCAR schedule-and let me be clear that I am not anti-oval, but pro-INDYCAR-there are a couple of things about staging a race at Nashville Superspeedway that concern me.

    1. The fact that the track is closed and there is nothing around it. I can’t say that INDYCAR has the money to promote a race on its own like it did Las Vegas-which didn’t draw 20,000 by the way.

    2. There is no sponsor for the race, nor is there a guarantee of a sellout crowd.

    Let me reiterate, I am not anti-oval. In fact, I am happy to know-as you may-that Phoenix may be back in play in 2013, as well as the possiblility that Watkins Glen and possibly Michigan might come back as well. These items are from various internet sources: espn.com, a local Watkins Glen paper and other indycar blogs.

  5. I would fly in to Nashville for the weekend and have a great time. I like the track and hanging out in Nash Vegas is a blast. What a killer town!!!!!

    By the way, it always seemed to me that the fans in Nashville were very much into IndyCar.

  6. I would welcome a return to Nashville. Great night race, stayed in nearby Lebanon.Always a super event.

  7. “If he’s looking for volunteers to try and pull off a race here, I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do for free”

    I’m in. It’s only like 15 minutes from my office, anyway. I’ll bring a pushbroom and a dustpan. Do we need anything else? How about a kegerator? 5,000 traffic cones, maybe?

  8. I think it would be a logistical nightmare to get the doors open, the utilities on and a staff in position let alone promote the thing properly. Would love to see more ovals but I don’t think this one will happen.

    • I don’t see it happening either, but let’s not sell the logistics of the event short. It’s not like the Wilson County power company is inept at getting the power back on and setting it up right and meeting all of the codes. There are plenty of top electricians who know what they are doing and you can hire a couple on a contract/consulting basis. Start with getting with most of the previous crew. As for putting a staff together, I can’t see it being that difficult when these one-off street races put together a staff for one event. Bring in venders for the concessions, hire the usual security/safety companies, get ticketmaster to print the tickets, dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s, put someone who knows what they are doing in charge and there you go.

  9. I love oval racing, but Nashville was horrible. Although there are many ovals I wish would return, I’m not supportive of a return to Nashville Supersleepway.

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